House debates

Wednesday, 31 July 2019


Live Animal Exports

7:51 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

The MV Awassi Express affair exposed terrible cruelty in the live sheep trade. It shocked the majority of Australians. Some government MPs—in particular, the member for New England—responded by accusing animal activists of paying the ship's crew to create acts of animal cruelty in an attempt to undermine confidence in the industry. So it was all a trick! The government responded by asking the Department of Agriculture to investigate these allegations. When the final report found the allegations were without foundation, government MPs were quick to reject the department's conclusions—a view promoted most by the member for New England who, in January 2019, told 2GB that 'workers on live export ships were reportedly offered thousands of dollars to provide footage of animal abuse' and 'it is believed some offered to cut off ventilation to sheep to make them look more distressed'. The member for New England should apologise to those workers, given the department's conclusions.

The Minister for Agriculture stands condemned for not offering any defence of her department's report and their conclusions. Think about it: we have government backbenchers freelancing, attacking the department's report, but the minister is yet to defend her own department. She can belatedly do so by releasing the report as industry leadership, including ALEC, has called upon her to do. I have no doubt that the report will show that the investigation was robust and, therefore, would or should restore some confidence in the regulator—a confidence which was undermined by the culture the member for New England created in the department when he was the minister. I have already started the FOI process and we will pursue this document. But the government can save us all a lot of time and effort and simply release that report in the morning, and I call upon the minister to do so. This is very alarming because, at the moment, there are rumours circulating around this building that the government is diverting much-needed resources out of biosecurity to prop up the live sheep trade. Have a think about that. Our biosecurity system is the most important thing to the future of our agriculture sector. It protects our image as a producer and as a provider of clean, green, safe, high-quality food. If we ever lose that reputation, the agriculture sector will be in a lot of trouble.

The review into our biosecurity system, headed by Wendy Craik, belled the cat, told us that the system is underfunded, and recommended that a new levy be struck on inbound containers to raise more money to properly fund our failing biosecurity system—I shouldn't say failing; it's a system which is under pressure and at risk of failure. The government accepted that recommendation and promised to have a container levy—or a more general levy, actually, which I won't have time to explain—in place by 1 July of this year. Guess what? No surprise; we have no levy to fund our biosecurity system. The government has now said that it will come into place on 1 September this year. If you have a look at the sitting pattern, it's pretty clear—given that we haven't seen any legislation and rumours continue to circulate that the government still has no idea how this levy is going to be designed—there is Buckley's to none that we will have a levy in place by 1 September next year.

Already, we've lost $20 million out of the system because of the delay between 1 July and 1 September. We cannot afford any more delays, and the government has even identified where that money will be going. Things like Indigenous biosecurity rangers programs, border clearance, priority pest and disease planning and response, international sea and airport supplementary funding, environmental biosecurity protection and the biosecurity innovation program. All these things are not going to be funded because this government treated the recommendations as an opportunity to grab some money and didn't focus on the main game, and that is properly funding our biosecurity system. (Time expired)